Getting a better chest without surgery or bras

by Beacon Staff • February 22, 2006

With the spring break countdown closing in, many Emersonians are feeling more rushed than relieved. For those who have recently come to call the Emerson College Fitness Center (ECFC) their second home, the final days of February mean only one thing: less time to whip that body into shape.

Even without the die-hard workout attitude, getting the body ready for flaunting is still possible. With just a few weight-bearing exercises, the upper body can be sculpted to show off those muscles at the beach.

Regardless of work put into the arms and midsection, the chest should not be overlooked. The pectoralis muscles, more formally known as the chest, are made up of major and minor muscles that give the upper body full range of motion, according to FitStep.com.

Called the "pecs" for short, this muscle group attracts attention from both men and women wanting visible development. Shannon Peterson, an exercise physiologist at the ECFC, said many men and women want bigger chests.

The problem, however, lies in the misunderstanding of what pec workouts do, as well as differences between the male and female anatomies, she said.

According to Peterson, exercises targeting the pecs really work the muscles underneath the chest.

Therefore, developing these muscles will not make a woman's bust any bigger. A woman can still do chest workouts, Peterson said, "but it's just going to shape differently" than it would with a man.

And ladies, no worries: the woman's body is not designed for the pec bulge that can be seen in men who lift often.

According to Peterson, the only way a woman could get that muscular definition is by working her pecs with the tenacity of a bodybuilder.

While lifting routines vary with personal preference, Peterson said the flat bench and the incline/decline press are the most popular pieces of equipment in the weight room.

She said men are the main users of these machines, while women tend to choose the fly machine and chest press for their workouts.

According to DCDoctor.com, a fitness training Web site, the flat bench can be used for the basic chest press with dumbbell flys. For both exercises, lay down on the bench and face up.

Exercise.about.com describes the chest press: Hold a bar or dumbells directly above the chest, with elbows bent at 90-degree angles. Extend the arms to push the weight straight up and away from the chest and then lower to starting position.

Flat dumbbell flys begin with weights in each hand as the arms are extended above the head, palms in and elbows bent, according to DCDoctor.com.

Arms should be slowly lowered until they feel close to locking out. Squeeze the pecs to bring weights up to starting position again.

The incline and decline bench presses are simply variations to the basic chest press, says Exercise.about.com.

Instead of using a flat bench, perform the same pressing motion with weight on a bench either angled upward or downward.

Dave Stauble, a senior TV/video major, said his pec workouts usually involve incline, decline and fly chest presses. Stauble said he does each exercise for three sets of 10, increasing the weight with each set.

Another weight room-dweller, Dana Knox, an Emerson staff member who works for Broadway in Boston, said he comes to the ECFC three to four times a week and almost always works his pecs when he lifts.

To add variation to the basic press, Knox said he does chest presses on the cable machine and with free weights "straight on, out, at an angle and directly up."

Knox said unlike many men, he doesn't aspire to have a large, built chest.

"I don't go for big, defined development," he said. "I go more for toning-so less weight, more repetition."

For variation in any pec workout, Peterson said using a stability ball instead of a bench for basic chest exercises makes them more functional.

Even the pushup can be spiced up when done on an uneven surface like the bosu, a ball that looks like it was cut in half, she said.

Balancing while lifting, Peterson said, "makes you use your core as well as other stabilizing muscles."

Best of all, aside from being eye candy for the beach, a well-worked chest is practical. According to Peterson, the pecs are an "important muscle group because they oppose the back muscles."

Developing the chest helps even out upper body strength so the back will not be stronger than the front, she said.

Similarly, back workouts can be paired with chest exercises in the same routine.

According to Peterson, working out the opposing muscle groups, like the upper back and pecs, helps balance the body. Without developing both, one risks becoming too round shouldered and front-heavy, Peterson said.

"This happens to a lot of guys that just work the chest," she said.

So if you're ready to make the sacrifice now to squeeze in a few extra gym workouts while classes are still in session, make sure to keep it even.

In just weeks, you just may be showing off that treasured chest.